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Video: How to eat healthy on the cheap

By TODAY nutrition and diet editor
TODAY
updated 2/12/2007 10:28:56 AM ET 2007-02-12T15:28:56

My weight-loss clinic is filled with patients who want to “eat healthy,” but believe it’s just too expensive. Maybe you feel the same way.

With food prices rising, I want to convince you that it’s not so hard to eat healthy on the cheap. I took a trip to my local supermarket to give you some tips on how to eat well while minding your pocketbook.

Here are some ways you can save money on your food bill, and still eating healthy.

Before you even walk out the door, sit down, write out a list, and stick to it. Shop once a week, and cut out coupons from the paper (skip those for processed foods that are expensive, even with the coupon!)

Money-saving fundamentals:

  • Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach! Make sure you shop after a meal, or after a light snack to help resist temptation.
  • Shop the perimeter (outside) of the store first. That’s where all of the healthier choices usually are; you’ll avoid all the more processed, costly items.
  • Look for sales on fresh fruits and vegetables — stores get a bargain sometimes, and pass that savings on to you
  • Choose a large bag of fruit (like apples or pears), instead of the single, large fruits priced per pound.

Buy generic:
Generic brands can provide a great savings when shopping and are often labeled as the store’s brands. The nutritional value of the food is the same, whether it’s canned, frozen, or bagged foods.

Skip organic:
There are some benefits to buying organic foods, but the nutritional content is equivalent is both organic and “conventional” (non-organic) foods. You don’t necessarily get better nutritional content with organic foods, although some people prefer the taste of organic foods. Buy conventional items to save money. Try to buy locally grown foods, when in season, for added savings.

Chose large-sized drinks:
Avoid buying soda, juice drinks, and sports drinks. Limit 100 percent juice purchases — buy the whole fruit instead. Stick with water — from the tap (unless there is a health concern to limit your local area’s tap water). Skip the bottled water. If you do purchase 100 percent juice or soda, choose reduced-sugar or sugar-free, and a large size (half gallon is common) for better savings. The single serving packages are costly — you’re paying for the container.

Make your own snacks:
There’s been in explosion in single-serving snacks from chips to cookies to cereal. Many are available 100-calorie portions. While portion control is a great thing, you don’t need to pay for it. Buy some snack-size re-sealable plastic bags, and make your own single-serving packets.

Cut down on the number of snacks you buy. Make a family decision — choose one treat from the chip and cookie categories, and buy a large bag of each for the week. No need for multiple bags of snacks. Most processed snack foods are expensive and typically provide little if any nutritional punch.

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Go frozen:
The winter does pose a challenge when balancing nutrient intake and cost. Bananas, apples, and pears are all good choices. For other produce, go to the frozen food cases. Frozen (or canned packed in water or 100 percent juice) fruits and vegetables are good choices. Skip ones packed in sauces. And look for low-salt options.Try freezing your own berries during the summer, when prices are low.

Avoid the exotic:
Go with “standard” colors of vegetables and fruits — green peppers, for example, are not as exotic as yellow, red, or orange, but are a fraction of the cost. Stick with whole fruits and vegetables, and cut them up yourself. Don’t buy the pre-cut stuff. And any leftovers can be put in a plastic bag and frozen for later use.

Buy sale items:
Look for sales, but only if you know what to do with the food! Items like meat, and poultry can be divided and frozen for later use  for a variety of meals. Shop the warehouses, if you can split the packages with a friend — particularly for perishable foods. That five-pound bag of vegetables doesn’t look very big in a warehouse store, but can hardly fit in many refrigerators.

What about restaurant eating?
Instead of choosing a “value meal” at a fast-food restaurant, downsize to a “kid’s meal” — better portion control, and an option of bottled water (instead of soda) and veggies instead of fries if you choose. Too tired too cook? Buy a rotisserie chicken at the store, and add the side dishes, drinks, and dessert at home.

Dr. Fernstrom’s Bottom Line: With a little pre-planning, you can be a healthier eater on a budget. You can enjoy greater variety, avoid deprivation, and gain a shopping strategy that is both easy on your waistline and your wallet.

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D., CNS,is the founder and director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Weight Management Center. An associate professor of psychiatry, epidemiology, and surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Fernstrom is also a board-certified nutrition specialist from theAmerican College of Nutrition.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician.

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